Free Boater Safety Course (Online)

As of July 1, 2016, VA state law requires operators of PWCs (Personal Watercraft such as Jet Skis, Sea Doos, and Wave Runners) and operators of motorboats with a 10 hp or greater motor, have a boating safety education course completion card on board when operating a PWC or motorboat.  The Boat US Foundation offers a FREE, online Boating Safety Course which is recognized by the US Coast Guard, approved by the NASBLA (National Association of State Boating Law Administrators) and MOST (NOT ALL) state boating license agencies.   To get a Certificate of Completion, you must first register, take the online course, pass the online test, and then, you will be able to print your Boating Safety Certificate of Completion.  MOST states require you have a Boating Safety Certificate in your possession when operating a vessel.  Below are links for The Boat US Foundation Online Boating Safety Courses.  Check to see if your state will accept this training, not every state does:

Is APPROVED for Virginia residents: –

For all other states and Wash. DC, check: –


  • It is very important to note, each state has its own boating laws, requirements, and regulations.  MOST (NOT ALL) states will accept the Boat US Foundation Online Boater Safety Course and Certificate of Completion.  For compliance, check your state’s laws, as well as other state’s laws in which you plan to operate a boat.
  • Generally, most states will accept out-of-state Boater Safety Certificates so long as the out-of-state certificate is NASBLA approved.  This mutual acceptance between states is called “Reciprocity.”  Check with the state you plan to visit to be sure.

An Example of Boating Law Differences Between States:

Both the states of New Jersey and Virginia require their respective residents to obtain a Boating Safety Certificate to legally operate certain vessels upon their waters.  Age limits differ between the two states.  New Jersey’s minimum age, to operate a vessel with a 10 HP motor and above, is 16.  Virginia’s minimum age requirement is 14.  New Jersey residents are also required to obtain a separate and renewable “Boat License” from their DMV if they wish to operate certain vessels upon non-tidal waters like lakes and ponds.  Virginia has no such requirement, nor are Virginia licensed boaters visiting New Jersey, required to get a New Jersey “Boat License” to operate vessels upon non-tidal New Jersey waters, only their valid VA Boating Safety Certificate is required.  A New Jersey DMV issued “Boat License” is not valid in Virginia.  New Jersey residents visiting Virginia must bring their valid New Jersey Boating Safety Certificate to legally operate vessels upon Virginia waters.  Finally, New Jersey DOES NOT approve the Boat US Foundation Online Boater Safety Course for their residents.  Virginia does.

A Note to VA Residents:

The above online Boater Safety Course is accepted in Virginia.  The certificate is good for life and does not have to be renewed.  You must have your Boating Safety Certificate in your possession while operating your vessel upon Virginia waters.  The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) [Formerly;  The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF)], offers the opportunity to file for, and obtain a Virginia Lifetime Boater’s Card.  This card is optional.  You may apply for this card if you have completed an approved in-person class or an approved online course.  The online course must have been taken after 2009.  For a registration fee of $10, you will receive a hard plastic wallet sized card which will serve as your Boating Safety Certificate.  The card will bear your name and issued Customer ID number as proof you have fulfilled Virginia’s Boating Safety Education Requirement.  You can easily replace this card if it is ever lost or damaged.  You may also apply for this card if you are exempted from taking the Boaters Safety Course.  However, it may not be advantageous in getting the card based upon that exemption.  See below concerning exemptions.  Here is the DWR’s link for more information:

More Information For Persons Operating Boats in VA:

Knowing all of the law can be daunting and very confusing.  I wish to provide everyone with other important information which I hope may help all to better understand the Virginia Boating Safety Education Requirement.

Technically, not everyone is required to have a Boating Safety Certificate to legally operate a vessel in Virginia.  There are “Exclusions” or “Exceptions” to the requirement.  A person can also meet the education requirements by meeting one of the following requirements:

  1. Passes an equivalency/challenge exam;
  2. Possesses or once possessed a valid license to operate a vessel issued to maritime personnel by the United States Coast Guard
  3. Possesses a marine certificate issued by the Canadian government or possesses a Canadian Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card;
  4. Possesses a temporary operator’s certificate as indicated on new boat registration;
  5. Possesses a rental or lease agreement and training documentation as issued by a motorboat rental or leasing business;
  6. Operates the motorboat under onboard direct supervision of a person who meets the compliance requirement;
  7. Operates a boat not registered in Virginia, temporarily using the waters of Virginia for a period not to exceed 90 days, and meets any applicable boating safety education requirements of the state of residency;
  8. Has assumed operation of the motorboat due to the illness or physical impairment of the initial operator, and is returning the motorboat to shore in order to provide assistance or care for the operator;
  9. Is or once was registered as a commercial fisherman pursuant to the Code of Virginia or is under the onboard direct supervision of the commercial fisherman while operating the commercial fisherman’s boat.
  10. Provides documentation that he is serving or has qualified as a surface warfare officer or enlisted surface warfare specialist in the United States Navy.
  11. Provides documentation that he is serving or has qualified as an Officer of the Deck Underway, boat coxswain, boat officer, boat operator, watercraft operator, or Marine Deck Officer in any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States, United States Coast Guard, or Merchant Marine.

Captain’s Thoughts:

#1 above – I do not believe pursuing this approach to be of any significant advantage.  I am sure most individuals who chose to do so will likely be amazed and humbled by how much they really do not know about boating.  Many will likely have difficulty in passing the exam on their first attempt.  Especially, if they have not studied any course related material.  I believe everyone will be far better served by taking an approved Boater Safety Class or an approved Online Course.  At present, I am not certain the Lifetime Virginia Boating Safety Education Card, of a passing equivalency/challenge exam applicant, will include the NASBLA logo.  If it does not contain the NASBLA logo, the card will NOT be valid in other states that require boating safety education.  It will only be valid in Virginia.

#2, #3, #9, #10, and #11 above –  Any individual possessing or have formerly possessed the above credentials, are NOT required to obtain a Boater Safety Certificate in Virginia.  Secondly, if you do apply for the Lifetime Virginia Boating Safety Education Card, using the above related credentials, the issued card will NOT include the NASBLA logo. This means, the card will only be valid in Virginia.  It will NOT be valid in other states that require boating safety education.  You MUST take an approved Boater Safety Course (Online or Classroom) in order to receive the NASBLA endorsement on your card.

If you wish to review the actual Virginia Law Code regarding this matter:

Code of Virginia; Title 29.1; Chapter 7; § 29.1-735.2.



In my opinion, state mandated Boater Safety Courses do not provide individuals with any “hands-on” boating operation skill knowledge to adequately handle the operation of any boat on the water.  To the best of my knowledge, there are no state mandated Boater Safety Courses which require a “hands-on,” on the water boating test to become “licensed” like Driver Education courses, which require both book and hands-on driving experience in order to receive a driver’s license to legally operate a vehicle on the road.  It is up to you to learn how to safely operate a boat on the water.

I provided the above information in hopes of helping people save their hard earned money.  There are a number of companies who charge for taking their online boater course.  Others offer free courses but charge for their study materials or charge for the printing of some kind of certificate.  Unfortunately, said certificate may or may not be accepted by the state for which it was advertised.  The bottom line here is to be safe, compliant, and to know your state’s requirements before investing your money in any classroom or online Boater Safety Course.

Have a blast boating!

Capt. Johnny Ellis, Orange Troller LLC OT Logo No white